A very English difficulty

For the last year I have put up few posts. There are reasons – mostly, though not all, good ones. I thought I might just about manage once a month, but I was going to cheat this February/March. The distinguished journalist, television director and author, Cynthia Reyes, had kindly asked me to be interviewed for her At Home series, and I thought I would re-blog her post… but I can’t. Because I’m English (and overcome with embarrassment). Cynthia has cleverly and kindly picked out my, often small, achievements, spread thinly over a long life, and polished and condensed them until they give an impression of a High Achiever.

Like everyone else, I enjoy a warm feeling at seeing work I have done being given attention and receiving praise for it. I am vain enough not to undo her good work by pointing out the why these are not as good as they look. Yet I would give much to have done what Cynthia has done. She has overcome daunting physical challenges and lives with PTSD after an accident when at the peak of her career. In addition she has written two amazing, entertaining, heart-warming and, above all, honest books about her life and its challenges. Then last year she published a book that will thrill, comfort and entertain children all over the world, Myrtle the Purple Turtle. This book will contribute positively to humanity.

 

 

No is Not Enough and other reading

A Happy new Year to all of you from this absent blogger. Spring is around the corner – I took this cyclamen a few minutes ago and I see snowdrops shoots all around.

Among the books I read during the upheavals of 2017 are three I want to tell you about. If you read no other book this year get your head into this one: In No is Not Enough Naomi Klein describes, with terrifying clarity, the power play in the western world, and its effect on the whole world. Much more importantly, she tell us what to do if we want to change this. She has seen at first hand how successful counter measures work, and how we can learn from this and adopt and adapt them to different situations. This is a book that enables you to see a better future and, best of all, how you as an individual can help to make this happen.

If you want to understand and empathise with an economic migrant read this: The Road Home is beautiful, heart-breaking and ultimately heart-warming. It gives a view into Eastern Europe that is absent from the papers, it also shows us the streets of London in all their mixed glory and dilapidation. Best of all are the characters – from many backgrounds – who inhabit these streets and who an immigrant is likely to encounter. The ending reminds us not to make presumptions about the economic migrant story.

Finally a small bombshell of beauty and tragedy: A Bargain with the Light is one of the delightful miniature publications by Hercules Editions. It packs into a slim 5+inch square book, the life history of Lee Miller, extraordinary photographs both by and of her, and a poetic tour de force – a crown of sonnets – by Jaqueline Saphra. All of these elements cohere to make an exquisite, informative and satisfying whole.

Miller was a front-line war photographer, an abuse survivor, a celebrity, an artist’s model.

A crown of sonnets is series of 15 sonnets, where the last line of each is the first of the next. The fifteenth sonnet is composed of lines taken from each of the sonnets. When done as beautifully as this, the result is almost three-dimensional and has an extraordinary rhythm.

Death of a sculpture? Palinurus’ Tomb.

Many years ago I was a sculptor of sorts. This is one called Palinurus’ Tomb. Palinurus was the helmsman of the Aeneid, he was lost at sea and his ghost was assumed to wander since he was never buried. However, Palinurus met Aeneas in the Underworld and said that he had reached land and then been killed – yet he still had no tomb.

In the late 1970s the sculpture came to rest in our garden

Over the years the material – plaster filled with iron-filings (terrosa ferrata) – slowly disintegrated, and parts disappeared.

Other big sculptures in the garden were, one by one, broken down and ended in a skip. 

As we have a major reworking of part of the garden, I decided it was time for Palinurus, with dangerous areas of metal armature sticking out, to go too. However, there was a protest. So I looked out some of my old tools and found that the sculpture suppliers, Tiranti’s, were still in business, and still sold the special plaster with iron filings (and their irresistible tools). I set to work to make Palinurus safe (not restored, just safe). It doesn’t look great, but it was an enormous please to be back reworking a sculpture and it will definitely last for another ten–twenty years.

 

I wish I could say that I am back to blogging, but this is only a partial return. I have spent time with friends and family, and the novel has has made some (rather minimal) progress. The tomatoes and beans have ripened. Yet, time at my desk definitely needs to be kept to a minimum, and not eat into time with those close to me. So, I’m around, but in the background.

 

Goodbye until September

Dear friends, I need to spend time with family, friends… and possibly my writing.

So this is goodbye for the time being. I will still be keeping an eye on my blog, so if anyone happens to want to contact me, just comment and I will pick it up, but I will be neither posting, nor reading your amazing posts.

At the end of the summer I will have had visits from friends (too long neglected), attended conferences on European Banking and Far East Prisoners of War, I will have grown some tomatoes and beans and just possibly I will have made some progress on my next novel. 

We are starting here:

If I end up with nothing more than this, so be it. I will see you all again in the autumn.

Heavenly maples and maple worries

Many of you will know that I am a Japanese maple addict.In spring when the new leaves start emerging I practically swoon with delight. It is also a very anxious time and the young leaves are prone to frost damage. In the UK we had hot, T-shirt weather in mid March, followed by drought and then sharp frosts in the last week.Apart from the older maples above, there are maples that have grown as seedlings aro kaze (the bronzy one above). They take years to grow and many die young. This one is two years old and has become one of my husband’s new interest in bonsais. This one is, I think, three years old, and is also joining the bonsai collection.The purple one below is also three years old. They are all seedlings from the same maple! And this one is at least four years old. I thought I had lost it. The young leaves are so fine and vulnerable that they have no strength to withstand bad weather until they fill out. This will be stunning when there are more layers in a couple of years time.Here are two of this year’s crop and they only appeared a week or so ago. Finally, one of our oldest small maples had become so pot-bound that I carved it in a pie chart pattern and filled the open sections with fresh ericacious compost.  Sadly, although I could protect the smaller maples, the heavy frosts of the last week have damaged some leaves on all the established maples, so they will look a little moth-eaten this year. They will still be beautiful.

New note: Thanks to Uma Shankar’s comment below, I looked up the meaning of the name Matsukaze and am charmed to discover that it means “wind blowing through pine trees”. Thank you, Uma.

Time for an Update

Apologies for my absence in January (first month missed since I started in 2013).

Winter aconites

Winter aconites

snowdrops

snowdrops

2016 was almost continuous mayhem. Some of it was wonderful. Surviving the Death Railway: A POW’s Memoir and Letters from Home was published, and has gone down well with the people for whom it was mainly written – relatives of the men who were prisoners with my father. It has pleased my own relatives too as my mother’s work during the war was not known to them.

Phyllis Custance Baker with grandchild

Phyllis Custance Baker with grandchild

I survived the terror of public speaking, giving five full lectures on the story of the book, and there are more lined up for this year.

However, still on the home front, there were family health problems that required a great deal of time and mental energy, but which are happily now mostly resolved.

Segukaku maple in late winter and birch

Segukaku maple in late winter and birch

Moving outwards the national outlook was, and is, depressing. Brexit was a shock and I fear for the future not only of many European friends, but also of those from further afield who feel alienated by the toxic rhetoric of the Brexit campaigners. I also feel desperately sorry for those to voted OUT, genuinely believing this rhetoric and thinking that vast new sums of money would now be available to the NHS, and that stopping Europeans coming to the UK will make Britons better off and having no idea that so many of the schemes in deprived cities round the UK are funded by Europe.

I would never have imagined that all of this would seem insignificant 5 months later. The new president of the USA is a nightmare of such vast proportions that it is difficult to see how the world will recover. Even if he does not cause WWIII or accelerate climate change beyond recovery (and I feel both are highly likely), I still feel diminished as a human being that people not dissimilar to me, voted for this man.

Pepper tree

Pepper tree

If I can see how to make a difference, I hope I will stand up and be counted. In the meantime it will contribute at the micro-level – supporting and caring for those closest and treating all humans as I would wish to be treated myself. We give to the men and women working at charities’ coal faces and we try and care for the environment at home. This all feels like bailing out the boat with a leaky bucket.

So, I am cultivating my garden, or rather starting work on clearing the next bit of fence for replacement; looking after the hedgehog (who reappeared yesterday); growing my garlic; publishing my husband’s book and re-starting my next novel. Life goes on. dscn0205dscn0204dscn0201-version-2

I wish you all courage in facing this even more less than perfect world.

Some trees for Christmas or an alternative Christmas tree

As autumn approached this year I was looking forward to splashing photos of my beloved Japanese maples all over the blog. Then there was too much going on at home and in the world; they seemed out of place and the moment passed. So I will send all of you – the happy, the sad, the politically bruised, the new parents, the newly bereaved, the travellers and the homebodies, the ordinary and extraordinary people who drop into my blog – some maples for Christmas.

dscn0019 dscn9945-version-2dscn0017 dscn0026 dscn0018 dscn0020 Below one of the nine maples that have seeded over the years beginning to grow in beauty.dscn9985-version-2

And the alternative Christmas tree…   screen-shot-2016-12-17-at-17-06-24

Have a wonderful holiday season, and see you next year.